Did the ancient Irish have scouts that watched over their people? Did they have their own version of "forest ninjas"? And, where did the legends of rangers (like Aragorn from Lord of the Rings) come from? Are they based on something real?
If you're like me at all then you find the above very fascinating questions, and I'll be honest, I was delighted and quite surprised when I discovered the stories of Fionn MacCool and the Fiana.
Fionn (pronounced "fin") is a legendary figure in Irish folklore and stories, and he serves as a sort of Irish Robin Hood. The stories of his early childhood revolve around being taking away from the intrigues of the royal court and raised in a very wild, remote setting by two powerful women mentors. (There's a long and honored tradition of powerful female mentors for Irish male heroes and vice versa). Fionn was actively being hunted by his grandfather who was a dark wizard or druid akin to something like Voldemort. A dark prophecy surrounded Fionn's birth and with the prediction that Fionn would eventually overthrow the old wizard. So, his grandfather actively sought to get rid of Fionn, while his female protectors absconded away to save him and protect him.
Fionn grew up learning the ways of the forest from these two female teachers. They taught him all about the ways of hunting, trees, medicinal and edible plants, how to get close to and become friends with wild animals, how to avoid being seen, how to live off the land and more. How the two older women knew these things is a bit of a mystery, though there are tantalizing hints left to us...
Eventually, Fionn grows up and becomes the leader of the Fiana-a band of roaming hunter-warriors whose job is to protect the Irish from outside invasion. The Fiana were required to live off the land and protect the people of Ireland from May 1st (Beltane) to October 31st (Samhain) every year. Then, the people of Ireland were required to host and take care of the warriors during the dark half of the year (Samhain to Beltane). The Fiana would actively travel widely throughout the land of Ireland and specifically watch for Viking raiders along the coast. They had to travel quickly from place to place and live light and simply.
To join the Fiana, you had to be proficient at survival skills, have intimate knowledge of the land, and be able to run rapidly through the woods at full speed and travel without stopping, moving over both high and low obstacles. You also had to be able to defend yourself against multiple opponents with a simple wooden stick and be able to blend in and disappear into the woods at will.
But, the Fiana were not just required to be proficient in these physical skills, they were also required to be able to tell stories, share lore, and even recite poetry. Apparently, being well-rounded was a key part to being a Fiana.
Oh, and just for the record, women were allowed to join the Fiana too. In fact, in at least one story, Fionn's grand-daughter joined the Fiana late in his life.
It seems without a doubt with their deep knowledge of place, survival skills, ability to disappear into the forest, and other embodied qualities that the Fiana were the ancient scouts, forest ninjas, and rangers of Ireland.
Interestingly enough, it was said that Fionn MacCool had gained an almost supernatural ability to know what his enemies were doing and where they were. It was almost like he was tapped into some deeper level of awareness that allowed him to excel in his role as scout and protector.
In my upcoming Scoutcraft book and Kickstarter project, I look forward to sharing more about Fionn, the Fiana, the source of Fionn's secret knowledge and awareness, and even how his two women mentors knew what they did and why they shared it in the way they did...
Stay tuned for more details!
And, just curious what do you think about the stories of Fionn and the Fiana?
What's most inspiring to you?
What jumps out to you?
Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time,